Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen: Part 7

So, who waded through the First Salvo of Colt Apollo? Who got bored? Doesn’t matter if you did; hearing about the game is never quite the same as being there. As is the case with most retellings, really. But would it interest you to know that this was all done within 3 hours, give or take 15 minutes?

Last installment, I talked about judging the reactions and emotions of your players and adjusting your story. The challenge was to wade through the two journal posts below and see if you can spot where I pulled the plug. Admittedly this isn’t a blow-by-blow account of the game but it’s been two weeks and all the high notes are intact regardless.

There were two more acts I had planned: Escape from a watery landing and a final confrontation. I pulled the plug on those shortly after the end of the first battle on the airship’s bridge. Here is the reason:

Speed of reaction and adjustment of story notwithstanding, when it comes to time you’re going to fit more in a comic, tv show or movie than you will a game on an hour for hour basis. The obvious answer is that the mechanics of your story are still working while you’re telling it as a game, as opposed to the shiny showroom model story presented to you at the cinema. Which is patently obvious and you may wonder why it even bears mentioning. It’s for these reasons:

1: Your players have a finite amount of attention to pay to this task and enthusiasm and concentration can wane all to easily over time. For those who watched the revised King Kong, how many of you were wishing the movie would just go faster? Or, for that matter, the end of Return of the King?

2: That attention is further curbed by math. While I try not to clog my games up with extraneous dice rolling, the simple fact is your players will be working out simple addiction, multiplication and subtraction. Particularly if there is a lot of action. Math can be draining and it will drain from enthusiasm.

Fortunately both of these reasons are mitigated by player participation and so the brain is invigorated by involvement and refreshed but even then, sometimes enough is enough.

The last game, my players got a lengthy description of Steampunk New York City, investigated a kidnapping, attempted to board an airship, boarded an airship by a completely different way than I expected and had just rescued the crew. At this point, there was still the matter of the other Russians, the hostages and the Samson Class Zepplin. To throw waterlogged abandonment followed by another gun battle would have added another hour easily. And most importantly, it wasn’t needed.

It wasn’t needed because I had a curfue but, more importantly, it wasn’t needed because the most exciting part – the use of static discharge against the zepplin and the battle that resulted – was the climax of the adventure. If I threw fifty steampunk ninjas at the group (not saying I would, nor that I wouldn’t in restrospect), the coolest point was that battle between zepplins and the player innovation behind it. That’s the memory I want to leave with the group.

There were two reasons for chopping away acts of your story while telling it, there are also indicators in the course of the game that will clue you in. The zepplin battle was the coolest thing I had planned in the adventure. Why muddy the waters with an encounter for the sake of it?

Stephen King wrote that Second Draft = First Draft – 10%. A GM’s first draft is typically what he plans on his own. Second draft is when he puts it out in front of the players. Judge the player reaction and think about the story as a whole. Does it need any more to make it cool? Better yet, are your players going to be more excited than they are at this moment?

An alternative, obviously, is to simply halt the adventure at an appropriate juncture and pick it up again with your story intact. In my case, I’m running this game on a fortnightly basis and would prefer to keep the action self-contained to episodic format: One adventure with a beginning, middle and conclusion. It’s less for the players to hold in their heads, which means more room to hold onto the core concepts of the setting and their characters. And for a premise this cool, I want them to be thinking ‘Steampunk Cowboys’.

So, in conclusion, think about the time you’ve taken of your players and how much enjoyment they’ve had during it. And always leave them wanting more.

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